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Monday, Aug. 27, 2012

Black Holocaust Museum Moves Online

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America's Black Holocaust Museum (ABHM) may have closed its doors, but the Milwaukee institution recently opened a window to the world by relaunching as a virtual museum: www.abhmuseum.org. Milwaukee Public Schools teacher Reggie Jackson is head griot (scholar-curator) and ABHM board chair.

As Reggie Jackson, do you get a lot of “Straw that Stirs the Drink” comments?
Every reference you can imagine. One New Yorker invited me to an event with Yogi Berra. He refused to believe I was the wrong Reggie Jackson. I was born in October, though, so I don't mind being called “Mr. October.” However, I'm a terrible baseball player.

The museum opened Feb. 25, 2012, in honor of founder James Cameron's birthday. What can you tell us about Cameron?

The late Dr. James Cameron is the only known survivor of a lynching. He envisioned America as “one single and sacred nationality.” He believed racial equality and reconciliation depend on understanding history—and creating safe places to dialogue about it.

What is the Black Holocaust?

From the 1500s through the 1880s the Transatlantic Slave Trade brought 12-15 million Africans to the Western Hemisphere. It remains the single biggest trade in human beings in history. Only 3%-5% came to the U.S. About 40% went to Brazil. Cuba, Haiti and Jamaica were big. Africans were also sold in Europe, the Middle East and India.

How does Milwaukee fit?

Housing, employment and educational discrimination were widespread from the arrival of the first blacks in the 1840s. Restrictive covenants disallowed selling or renting to blacks outside designated areas. A century later, nearly every black person in the city lived between Third and 12th streets, and Juneau and Clarke. Milwaukee's movement to end housing discrimination spurred a federal Fair Housing Act. Segregation in Milwaukee's public schools led to a Supreme Court decision in 1976.

How does the Black Holocaust continue?

Unemployment has been at least double that of whites for as long as statistics have been tracked. Blacks are disproportionately arrested for drug crimes, even though whites have higher rates of drug use. Higher poverty, infant mortality and insufficient health care mean shorter life expectancy. Several banks were charged with discriminatory lending during the subprime crisis. And then there are prisons…

What does a virtual museum offer that a physical museum doesn't?

A much broader audience, for one; 86 different nations have visited already. Our scholars can answer visitor questions directly, personally and extensively. We have user-generated content, too. There is a “Memorial to the Victims of Lynching,” for instance, and users contribute information about victims' lives. You can also download videos [and] readings, and link to relevant websites.

What are some plans for the future?

Reopening the physical museum, somewhere down the line. Meanwhile: Increase the museum's presence worldwide. Contribute to Black Holocaust scholarship. Provide a safe place to learn and dialogue. Continue our nation's struggle forward.  It is our sincerest wish that the work of Dr. James Cameron, and all who follow in his immense footsteps, leads to reconciliation through American democracy's highest ideals.